At 17, Brent Warren, thought he had his future well in hand.
He was a star baseball player with a 90-plus mph fastball and a keen batting eye at Xavier High School in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
There were scholarship offers from just about every major collegiate program in the country. College coaches and Major League scouts routinely dropped him letters and swung by his house to chat.
“I won’t say that I thought professional baseball was going to really be my career,” says Warren, a 2017 graduate of Creighton University School of Law.
“When you’re a kid from small-town Iowa, big league baseball is like another universe. But I thought I had the tools and I might have a shot.”
A decade removed from that future, working at a law firm in South Dakota, Warren observes that in baseball, just as in life, predictability very often narrows to zero.
“When I played my last game, I didn’t pick up a bat or a ball for years,” Warren says. “I wanted to create a life after baseball. I was an All-American in high school.
“Then something happened. I did not want to be defined by that. And that’s what got me to Creighton, it’s what got me beyond baseball and got me into the idea of using my life to help someone else.”
For even as the 17-year-old Warren’s talent began to manifest itself, something else was steadily mounting to a crisis.
In his early teens, Warren began noticing his heart would occasionally skip multiple beats. His blood pressure was always exceptionally elevated. And there were times when he would pass clean out.
There were always ready explanations. But one afternoon, as he lay on a couch, a Gatorade bottle resting on his chest, Warren watched as the bottle jumped with each pounding beat of his heart. He had a physical coming soon and he resolved to ask his doctor, who scheduled an electrocardiogram.
The test results were staggering.
Warren had been living with a congenital heart defect requiring surgery. And soon.
Within weeks, he was at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, for an open-heart aortic bypass surgery. It was four days before Christmas 2006.
“It all kind of came crashing down around me,” Warren says. “It was my junior year. The crucial year for recruiting and the draft. Scholarship offers evaporated. The scouts stopped calling. It was hard.”
Even though the surgeon proclaimed the surgery a success and said the door remained open for Warren to continue with his baseball career, the athlete began to doubt what just months before had seemed such rock-solid footing.
“I thought I had a plan,” he says. Then, gesturing to where a scar from his throat to the end of his sternum stands, he continues: “This changed everything. I lost 30 pounds. My chest was completely gone. They ripped me open from here to here, and I was technically dead for 11 minutes.”
The physical recovery Warren faced was steep. But it was the mental recovery, the reacquisition of the distinctive psychological tools necessary in baseball — to stand in against fire-throwing pitchers or stare down a slugger — that really concerned him.
“As a young athlete, as a young person in general, you have that feeling of invincibility. But if you’re going to die, if you’ve come that close, it trickles into every part of your life. As an 18-year-old kid, I had a broadening of my perspective. I grew up quickly.”
Warren ultimately recaptured most of the physical ability needed to play, and even held on to a scholarship offer from national powerhouse Oregon State, where he played two years before transferring to Azusa Pacific University in California.
The move to Azusa Pacific, an NCAA Division II school, was in part a way of coming to terms with what he knew was the likely end of his baseball career.
“I just wanted to enjoy the game again and feel a part of something again, enjoy my environment,” Warren says. “It was a fit for me. It allowed me time to start thinking about what was coming after baseball.”
Following his 2013 college graduation, Warren took a year off to mull options. A friend from high school told Warren that his wife went to Creighton’s law school and had enjoyed the experience.
“This would get me back to the Midwest, closer to family,” Warren says. “I grew up coming to Omaha for the College World Series, so I was familiar with Creighton.”
Warren graduated in May and has taken a job with the Goosman Law Firm in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
Ultimately, he says, he’d like to take his baseball life and his Creighton training and move into the realm of sports agency.
“The idea of an ethical agent seems lost in a world that’s awash in fame and money,” Warren says. “But Creighton trained me to have a different conversation.
“Having been there, I think I can talk to the young kid who is supremely talented but has questions about what the next steps are,” he says. “The Jesuit mentality is important and helps people come to a richer stance in their beliefs and ideals. That’s what I’d like to try doing, too.”